Friday, October 25, 2013

[NYCC] Tableside Chat with Art Baltazar and Franco

When it comes to kindred spirits in the comic book industry, Art Baltazar and Franco are the first two names that come to my mind.  Their collaborations are well-known, Eisner Award winning, and seemingly never ending.  Which is a good thing in my books.  These two are so in sync that it feels like they can finish each other's thoughts at times (or at least their sandwiches).  In their infinite generosity, they took some time out of their New York Comic Con to sit down and talk with me about Itty Bitty Hellboy, Aw Yeah Comics!, and much, much more.  So please pull up that arm chair and join us by the table for our latest Tableside Chat.

Art Baltazar and Franco are two incredibly well-known names in the comic book industry.  Synonymous with all-ages comics and fun, these guys have been tearing up the place with their ever continuing collaborations.  They painted the DC town red, putting out such gems as Tiny Titans and Superman Family Adventures (to name but two), and have since taken their act on the road.  They've been kind enough to bring the Aw Yeah universe to Hellboy with the Itty Bitty Hellboy miniseries, while also creating some straight Aw Yeah Comics! goodness after their successful Kickstarter earlier this year.  [This chat took place on October 13th, 2013]
Franco and Art
Grant McLaughlin: Just to start off, I have to ask: Why all-ages comics? Why is this something that matters to you guys? Why is this important in your view?

Art Baltazar: Me, I'm a cartoonist. It's the only way I know how to draw. So it's the way I make comics and I just like all-age because I want everybody to read what I draw and write. So I don't necessarily consider my books for kids. I consider that they're books that kids can read.

But we have fans from little ones to really big guys, so it's just in my blood. It's in my nature. A cartoonist. I grew up watching Tom and Jerry, Magilla Gorilla, Bugs Bunny, so it's kind of like what they say: you write what you know.

Franco: Yeah, I think pretty much along the lines of what he said. Grew up with the same cartoons. We were kind of brought up in the same household, but in two different cities.

Art: Yeah. [Laughs]

Franco: So it was fate that we met and we just kind of gelled and we started making stories that worked for both of us. So everything that he said.

GM: Speaking of, it's my understanding that your initial meeting was a little fortuitous.

Franco: When we first met, I was at a show where there was nobody buying anything, and there was a guy who was standing in front of my table for about an hour or so, critiquing and picking apart everything I had done in my self-published book that I had written, drawn, edited – you know I had done everything – and he was pointing everything out that I did wrong. And then I finally snapped after about a half an hour and I snatched the book out of his hand and said, “If you don't like my book, don't read it!” and that's when Art happened to walk by, he said, “Hey, you sell a lot of books that way?” [all laugh] I'm like, “Oh, man, now I have to deal with this guy.” And then he sat down next to me and set up his table. I'm like, “Great. Now I gotta stick around this guy all weekend. But it worked out.

Art: The show – nobody went to the show so we were able to talk and read each others' books so we became buddies by the end of Sunday. So it was a good time.

GM: Glad to hear it's worked out.

Art: Yeah. [All laugh]

Franco: That was what, '97, '98? Somewhere around there?

Art: And then it turned out that at the time I only lived about fifteen minutes from him, so I'd go to his house and draw, we'd watch wrestling and eat pizza and stuff. And then we just started coming up with some ideas. It was kind of fun.

GM: You guys have obviously done a lot of books, including some of your bigger books like Tiny Titans and Superman Family Adventures at DC. How did that work lead into Itty Bitty Hellboy? Did you guys approach Dark Horse or did they come to you?

Art: We got an email from Mike Mignola.

GM: Oh really?

Art: He wanted kids books at his table that he could sell with Hellboy. So we said yes and that's what we made. We turned all of his guys small.

Franco: Yeah, I mean, he's a big icon. I'm a big fan of his. So when you get the email from him asking if you want to work on Hellboy, it takes you about two and a half seconds to overcome the shock and then immediately say yes.

GM: Yeah, of course. And when you're working with the characters, are there any limitations set on you or do you guys kind of have carte blanche?

Art: Not yet. No one's said anything yet.  So we're really trying to make them cool and fun and pretty much so far we're doing whatever we want with it. It's kind of good.

He likes it and he said his wife and his daughter love it, so they approved it before he could even look at it, so that's probably pretty good.

GM: Sounds like pretty high praise.

Art: Yeah.

GM: Itty Bitty Helloby is set to run 5 issues. Have you finished all of them yet?

Art: Yeah, I got seven pages left for number 5 when I get home. It should be done this week, and we'll see what happens.

GM: When working on it, was there anything you guys weren't able to get in there or did you really manage to fit it all in?

Art: We got a lot more stories. We could do an ongoing real easy. But we wanted to really concentrate, and each issue has a theme. Like in issue 3 they go to Hell, issue 4 they go to Heaven, and issue 5 they go underwater. We're in the swamp and there's a birthday party in issue 5. It's kind of fun.

We've a brand new character in number five that's never before seen in the Mignola universe. We created it for Mike Mignola, but I can't tell you what it is. You have to be surprised.

GM: I'm sure everyone else will be very surprised. And I understand the other big announcement this weekend is that Dark Horse is going to collect Aw Yeah Comics! How did that come about? How do you guys feel about that?

Art: I'm okay with that. We said yes obviously. We did Aw Yeah Comics on our own with a Kickstarter campaign. Originally it was supposed to be some books for our store. And we invited artists and writers to contribute to our books, and Scott Allie talked to us during the Kickstarter and he wanted to publish them as the Kickstarter was going. And so it was a really awkward phone call because we'd reached our goal and he goes “Why did I even bother calling you guys?” Because he saw the Kickstarter at, like, noon and then scheduled a conference call for 4:30 but we hit the goal before then.

Franco: It's kind of like one of those things like “Why did you do this? You should have just talked to us”-type thing. And then he saw that in under eight hours we hit the goal and he goes “Well that was really weird of me to send that email.”

Art: “You don't need a publisher.”

Franco: I think that the cool thing about it was that he was really interested in it and even after the Kickstarter was funded he was still interested in it. All the discussions that we've had about it, we came up with something cool because, like, the comics was just us and other people that we invited to do stuff with us, but the trade paperbacks - or the collected versions – are going to be a lot more Art and Franco content. So we felt that our names are going to be on the cover so they're going to have a lot more Art and Franco in them. So if you buy the floppies, it's going to be different content – some content is the same – but different content than what you're going to get in the trades.

Art: It's probably going to be 70% is going to be reprinted stuff and 30% is going to be new stuff. So we're going to do stuff like that, so you're going to get new pages, new stories in every trade paperback. So that'll be cool. So the floppy books and the trades will be different books. So that's kind of good. And that's what we're looking forward to, you know?

GM: And is there a release date associated with it yet?

Art: Not official, but I think Spring maybe?

Franco: April, May, June.

Art: June, July, August.

Franco: Dark Horse knows the date. They've told us the date, we've just --

GM: It's been a long weekend.

Franco: Yeah.

Art: I know it's not January.

[All laugh]

GM: Well that's good. And kind of on the topic, how important is it to you guys to work on your own characters?

Art: Oh, it's real important. We never stopped. I've always done it. But I love working on all these other guys too. To me it's all one universe. Comic World, you know?

Franco: I think the thing that we're most indebted to for Dark Horse is that they approached us about Hellboy but at the same time approached us about our own stuff. Aw Yeah Comics! was a conversation we were having at the same time. It's just that we couldn't talk about it until now, but they made it real comfortable for us, and I like Dark Horse as a home.
Art: I like the meetings when you suggest something and they're like, “Yeah, we can do that.” And you're like, “Really?” It wasn't like all “We have to talk to people or get back to you.” None of that. It happened right on the spot every time. They're awesome.

GM: That's awesome.

Art: Yeah, it's good stuff.

GM: I'm also interested about – you guys own a comic book shop in Illinois, right?

Art: Yeah.

GM: What's the story behind that? Has it been a life long dream? Has it just come out of nowhere? What happened?

Art: About a year and a half ago – it's called Aw Yeah Comics in beautiful downtown Skokie, Illinois – and we – our friend Marc Hammond runs the shop and he's co-owner with us. He and Franco were talking about opening a shop maybe two or three years ago. And then our conversation just kept evolving and growing--

Franco: We'd always talked about it before then, too. You know? And it's just something that kind of evolved out of that. And it boils down to us wanting to be involved in all parts of the industry.

Art: And then our buddy Marc said, “I'm moving to Chicago next week.” “What? Why?” “To open up our comic shop.” “Okay.” So that was it. We did it and it's so much fun. We have another store called Alter Ego in beautiful downtown Muncie, Indiana, and we're co-owners with Mark Waid. So we have two stores right now that are kind of like an Aw Yeah franchise going on. It's kind of cool. So we're creators, we're writers, artists, publishers, retailers, and we'll probably be doing more stuff, you know? We want to be involved in every aspect of the comic industry.

GM: Sounds like you guys have your fingers in a lot of pies at the moment.

Franco: We're trying.

Art: Yeah, it's our industry. That's what it is. We work here.

GM: Then, just to finish up, the way we do things at The Weekly Crisis is we like to end our interviews with what we like to call the Literary Rorschach Test. So I have a few words here and your job is to answer with the first thing that comes to your head.

Art: Awesome.

Franco: Okay.

GM: First word would be Approachable.

Franco: Yes.

Art: Clark Kent.

GM: Fun.

Franco: Yes.

Art: Exciting.

GM: Challenge.

Franco: Not really.

Art: I thought. It's a comic shop in Chicago.

Franco: [Laughs]

GM: Collaboration.

Art: With Franco.

Franco: Yeah --

Art: Only with Franco.

Franco: I was going to say Art and Franco.

Art: Yeah, I tried other people and I didn't like it. Well, it's not as fun. I like it, but it's not as fun. Franco, yeah.

GM: All ages.

Art: All the time.

Franco: Itty Bitty.

GM: And then finally, The End.

Franco: Okay.

Art: Never.

Franco: Yeah, Never. I'm going to go with Never.

GM: Alright, some switching here.

Art: Never ends.

GM: That's great. Well thank you very much for your time.

Franco: Awesome. Thank you for your time.

Art: Gracias, dude.

While Art and Franco may have finished up Itty Bitty Hellboy by this time, issue #3 will be hitting stands next Wednesday, the 30th of October!  The Aw Yeah Comics! collection from Dark Horse doesn't actually have an official date at this point, but keep an eye out for it in the second half of next year.

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